How different my life is now, without either drugs or any 12 step nonsense. A critical examination of the NA 12 steps.

Last night as I struggled to fall asleep due to my insomnia, I thought about this… How different my life is now compared to a few years ago when I used drugs. But not only that. I also thought about how difficult recovery was for me at the beginning, when as an atheist expecting it to be based on something tangible, like a program featuring psychology to address my issues from which I escaped using drugs, which were then ironically compounded by the drugs, I found myself thrust into a culture that essentially entailed belief in magic, without any treatment for the underlying cause of the addiction. All is well in my life and my recovery now, but I’m writing this post for others like me, who enter into 12 step programs expecting help, and instead find themselves in a culture that can not help them, but rather further isolates them instead. (By further isolation, I mean that being a drug addict, you already isolate yourself. One would expect this isolation to end in recovery.)

My first attempt at recovery was awful. Thrust into a culture where the 12 steps were accepted as the only way, I spent much of my time at NA meetings that did nothing for me in terms of solving my psychological issues that caused me to use drugs in the first place. Furthermore, wasting time focusing on recovery itself took time away from what (this time around) turned out to be the solution to getting back control of my life. So when I wasn’t distracted from using drugs by time-wasting and energy-draining meetings, without actually working on my issues and therefore never moving forward, I was bored and isolated. More on the isolation further on, but before that, let’s take a sceptical look at the NA 12 steps.

1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.

This faux admission is easy to make… Yes, my life seemed unmanageable. I’d made many bad choices, and had chosen to continue using drugs for some time despite horrendous consequences. So to mindlessly accept what I was told would be so easy. Except it isn’t really true. I chose to use drugs, over and over again. It’s tough to admit that, and people following the program don’t. The fact is that I was always in control, and that everything bad that happened to me, as terrible as it was, was my fault.

To claim powerlessness would be to deny personal responsibility for all those mistakes. My poor choices had many consequences which filtered through to all aspects of my life, my relationships and even my work. It felt like things were out of control, like my life was a runaway train with no driver, but that’s just how it felt. All I had to do was stop using drugs, and then slowly everything that seemed so unmanageable could fall into place. (And that is ultimately what I did. I took back control of my life.)

No, I was never powerless, and although it would be easy to accept this lie because the truth is more difficult, taking responsibility for those mistakes, and being personally accountable for continuing a life without drugs, has greater meaning for me. So I reject step one.

2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

I don’t believe in any god because there is no evidence for any god. I can’t just change that, change who I am, because it is convenient to do so. Also, I was never insane.

Sure, many people in the program told me that my “higher power” need not be God… All of those people were religious. All of them were convinced that I would eventually find Jesus, that their personal god would “reveal Himself” to me. But getting back to the idea of substituting something in place of god – as we examine the steps it becomes crystal clear that this needs to be god for them to make sense. So I reject step two.

3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

No. I do not believe in any god. Also, I screwed up. Using whatever means I could, it was up to me to fix my life, not to rely on some fictional deity. Again, this step is convenient if you don’t want to be accountable for your own mistakes, but remember, you came into this program expecting help. Belief in false hope is not help. So I reject step three.

Why go on? Well, I was forced to participate in a program, so I looked at the rest of the steps anyway. I tried to apply them to my life and it didn’t work out well. I’m writing this to help other atheists see that these steps are a waste of time and shouldn’t even be attempted.

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Now I really don’t like where this is going. I happen to have impeccable morals. I made some poor choices, that harmed myself directly, and others indirectly. But those had nothing whatsoever to do with my morals.

On the one hand, I’m told that I’m not a bad person – that I have a disease. On the other, this step accuses us of poor morals. This is implying sin, a concept that I do not agree with. It also implies an argument from morality, the fallacious argument that our morals originate from god. So I reject step four too.

5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Now this is beyond absurd. I made a mistake, but this is going somewhere else. This doesn’t help me at all. It doesn’t even try to address why I made that mistake. It’s trying to imply sin and repentance. It’s a blanket solution for all that addresses nothing. Of course I reject this step too.

6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Defects of character? That I should ask some fictional deity to remove?

I don’t think so. I am the sum of all my parts, and my history, both the good and bad bits, made me who I am today. I learn from my mistakes, and do not accept that I have defects of character. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be asking a fictional deity to remove them. These steps look more like camouflaged born-again Christianity… where we ask Christ to save us from our sin. (Besides the fact that I don’t believe in Christ or any other deity, the message of Christianity itself, of us having to be saved from sin, fabricates the sin and provides a solution that involves believing in magic. I have rejected this already and do not need it shoved down my throat again.) I do not need to be saved or have character defects removed.

This step is pure bullshit.

7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

And you tell me it doesn’t have to be your God? I made mistakes. It’s was up to me to stop making those mistakes. Again, personal accountability goes out the window if you believe this nonsense. Obviously this step should be rejected.

8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

I only care about the effects of my drugs on my son, and have done all that I can to be the best parent that I can, going forward. It took a long time to get custody of him again, but it was never about making amends. It was about being a good and stable parent now, and in future. It was also about empowering him so that he knows better than repeating my mistakes.

You can’t change the past. And if there is anybody else I hurt, that’s unfortunate but I don’t look back. I am not interested in making amends with anybody. So I reject step eight.

9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Why is this even two steps? (I could ask the same about steps six and seven.) Again, I am reunited with my son. Nobody else matters and since I rejected the previous step, this one does not apply.

10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

I do always admit when I’m wrong. I do learn by my mistakes. If it weren’t for this being a follow-up to step four that mentions a moral inventory, I’d agree with it and say that it got something right by accident. Except it didn’t really, because of the implied “moral” inventory, so this step must be rejected as well.

11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Prayer and meditation? So I must ask my fictional Sky Daddy to fix me because I’m broken?

Let’s put it this way… I’m told that addiction is a disease. If I go to a doctor, and that doctor tells me to pray for my disease to be cured, I’ll leave and never see that doctor again. Instead I’ll find another doctor who knows what he’s doing.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

A spiritual awakening? I do not accept that anything spiritual exists. There is no god, all psychics and mediums are frauds, and I am responsible for my own actions. There is no way I can even creatively reinterpret this step to mean something else; no way I can apply it.

If you are a religious person and an addict who finds yourself in recovery, by all means rely on the 12 steps. It might work for you because you believe in god anyway. But do consider the fact that the program does not address any of your problems. Instead it involves working the 12 steps repeatedly and embracing a set of beliefs. It’s more like being in a cult. Sure, if you are religious, you can probably tolerate the nonsense and believe in it, but there are many articles out there that quoting the statistics and it seems to be generally accepted that 12 step programs are no better than doing nothing at all.

But if you’re not religious, if you’re an atheist or critical thinker, that program can not and will not work. In fact, partaking in it is torturous and an insult to your intelligence. Do I really even need to say that? Maybe for the sake of people who have never read what the 12 steps are really about, it’s useful, but otherwise it should be obvious that the 12 steps are a farce. They’re all about being powerless – having no control of our own lives, and asking god to save us.

I tried applying them to my life for a while, even though I could not believe in them, and it ended in disaster. I tried to make them fit, and could not. I sat in meetings where my lack of beliefs, my intelligence, counted against me. Instead of the program helping me, I found that I was further isolated. I was isolated from my family, who all assumed I was taking part in a program based on evidence that was helping me. I was isolated from my girlfriend, who believed in god. I was isolated from everybody else in the program, who all credulously and mindlessly accepted the nonsense of the 12 steps. I found myself disagreeing with everything said in meetings. The first time I tried it, without some other more sensible approach to my recovery, it was only a matter of time before I gave up on that program and relapsed because I had been convinced that 12 step programs were the only way to stay clean and sober. It’s ironic that I realized that the program was not useful, but also accepted that it was the only way. That was a failure on my part, but it’s a failure that any of us can make, and I now believe that going into recovery ignorant of the reality of 12 step programs is dangerous and could lead to many people relapsing. (And when you do, it’s your fault of course. Nobody blames the program, even though that program did nothing to help you.)

When I returned to recovery and got it right the second time around (this time), I attended meetings for a short while. (Long story short: I had a court order that required me to attend an outpatient program, as one of the conditions before reunification with my son could commence. But I waited until I was already clean for about 17 months before doing that program.) But I realized that I could not continue attending meetings; I could not pretend anymore; could not sit there listening to people talking bullshit when it did nothing for me. I even had to turn somebody down when he asked me to be his sponsor, and since he was in early recovery, I felt bad about that. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that everything he relied on so very much was nonsense (because he wouldn’t believe me – in his vulnerability he had become indoctrinated into believing what he was told in his 12-step based rehab) without being able to suggest a better way.

Next time I’ll write about what did work for me after I rejected the 12 steps and found my own way. (Or maybe I won’t. I have written about it before but do struggle to fully understand how I really got this recovery thing right, in all honesty. I don’t have a magic formula that you can follow for everything to be OK. If I did, I’d sell it and be filthy rich.)

Some bullshit from Living Clean

I was reading something that reminded me of the dreaded “Living Clean” NA book of drivel that some people like to read from in meetings… I recall that book being tiresome enough for me to have pointed it out in a meeting, despite my preference not to criticize the brain-dead to their faces. It’s that bad. The whole book reads like a contrived motivational message and conveys little substance – but in the guise of wisdom. There are a lot of words, written in the exasperatingly happy sentimental style of Reader’s Digest articles by bored senior citizens who get excited about growing vegetables. Those words are just words, worthless until you impose your own meaning on them.

Full disclosure: I have not attended a meeting in about seven months, and have no intention of ever attending one again. But something I read elsewhere reminded me of this, so I decided to seek out and download some of it, to see if it really is as bad as I remember.

So I found this, on page 127 of Living Clean… (“Approval draft”, whatever that means. Not sure if it’s the same version I’ve heard from before.)

A Spiritual Path

The steps are a path to spiritual growth. There is no separation between the “spiritual part” and the rest of our program. Just as the facets of a diamond are not separate from the stone, the spiritual aspects of our program are not separate parts; they are perspectives on the whole. It’s all spiritual. Our understanding of what that means may change over time.

Sometimes we think of spiritual principles as separate from the actions we need to take, but in fact they are connected. Spiritual principles give us a language through which we develop our values and learn to live by them. The principles describe our beliefs, our actions, and the reasons we act. Our relationship to the principles we practice is creative. We learn from day to day to use them in new ways, in new combinations, to better express who we are and to help the people around us. When we understand them better, we are able to act more consistently with what we believe. As we practice spiritual principles, we discover that this doesn’t “make us spiritual” at all. Instead, we are awakening to what has been going on inside us our whole lives. Spirituality is our natural state.

So there you have it. So much bullshit. I found that in twenty seconds after downloading the book (via the table of contents, obviously. I don’t read that fast). So it’s pretty random, and yet an excellent example of why I hate NA.

The language used is vague and open to interpretation. It starts with the dogmatic assertion that “There is no separation between the ‘spiritual part’ and the rest of our program… It’s all spiritual…”, then goes on to obfuscate what spiritual actually means. No surprise there really, because religious folk tend to keep god and spirituality vague and undefined. So to practice this program, the people who do so tend to reinterpret what spirituality means, and define their own higher powers. Working the steps involves years spent jumping through those mental hoops if you don’t happen to believe in any god, and then you forget all about your individual issues that caused you take drugs in the first place (except you don’t really forget – or work through your problems.)

In the end, working the program is nothing more than a distraction, and a poor one at that, but one that believers insist is the only way. So working the program as the true believers do involves wasting your life and your time on bullshit as quoted. That may work for some people but probably not most people. Maybe it works for those who are so desperate as to abandon their critical thinking facilities, and for some who enjoy enforcing the rules defined by their stupid program on others. Sadly that’s the way it is. Those who enforce the rules and are there to help others, who pass themselves off as caring, well-meaning people to family members and other loved ones of addicts, are often nothing more than bullies in a system where the adult addicts are forever treated like delinquent children, and come to think of themselves that way. Either that or they’re recovering addicts themselves and are true believers, which is even worse. They’re like well-meaning priests in a cult of morons, with faith that is infectious to the desperate and impressionable addicts wanting to be drug-free.

Furthermore, the second paragraph implies an argument from morality – the fallacious idea that we get our morals from a higher power. (“Spiritual principles give us a language through which we develop our values…”) That it is implied rather than stated directly is something I find even more sinister. Those who follow this nonsense often do not realize how deep they are in the realm of the imaginary; their lives and what drives them is a belief in absolute nonsense, and arguing with them becomes a waste of time and effort because they are often indoctrinated into the program and a way of thinking that is cult-like rather than of any real benefit. False hope may work for some, but not for all. I like to use the metaphor of recovery being something that anchors you to living and staying clean. But an anchor needs to be something real, not something imaginary. I can’t anchor myself to anything via a belief in nonsense.

Of course the believers will always say that I am not truly in recovery (No True Scotsman, anyone?) but I don’t care. (Two years and two months clean now, and as far from drugs as I can ever be.) What really gets to me is that I went into recovery a few years ago, and the first time I did not get it right. The reason it didn’t work was simple: I went into it expecting something tangible, something meaningful, something to help me live my life without drugs, and instead, I had to hear and read the kind of outright nonsense as quoted above, every fucking day.

It’s no wonder so many people relapse.

Pity the addict who has no choice but to rely on such a “spiritual” program. Pity the addict who is forced into it and is not an idiot, because only an idiot can believe the bullshit quoted above. But pity even more those who accept that 12-step programs are the only way to stay clean and sober, and abandon recovery altogether because of it. It is those people who are the victims of a system that can not work for intelligent people, and those people who are subsequently judged and seen as failures for rejecting the vile program. What is needed is more rehabs based on real science like psychology, and therapy such as CBT that actually works, rather than spiritual woo.

To conclude, if you are looking to stop using drugs and are not one of those people who can blindly accept the nonsense of 12-step programs, i.e. you’re not the type of person who can be indoctrinated into following a religion or cult, you’re in trouble, because that is the accepted way to do recovery. That is the situation you will find yourself in, and in my opinion, that’s why so many people do not recover successfully. Oh, you can try to go with it anyway… Work the steps and tell yourself it’s not bullshit; good luck to you. But my advice if you are an addict and are intelligent, is to find something else to anchor you to a life without drugs. Not NA, and definitely not the book of rubbish, Living Clean.

Let go and let God?

Despite the title, this post is not about religion per se. It is about 12-step programs and the fundamental lesson that they teach, the lesson upon which the foundation of such programs is built, and on which so many recovering addicts rely.

I was reading an article on about the harm done by religion, and when I reached point 5, on the subject of religion teaching helplessness, it struck me. The phrase “Let go and let God” was a favourite of the therapist who ran the group therapy in the outpatient program that I fairly recently attended, the same person who frequently accused me of not practicing powerlessness.

It struck me that this is why I was angry for so long after I initially tried to get recovery right, and this is why I am so passionately anti 12-step programs. I tried to make my recovery work the first time. I tried to follow the program even though I am not religious. I tried and I failed. For nine long months I tried, and it wore me down. Seeing no other way than following 12 step bullshit wore me the fuck down.

This is the underlying message of 12-step programs: Let go – admit that you are powerless, in other words helpless, over your addiction, and ask God to help you, because you need to be saved. You thus need to have faith, which means to deceive yourself into believing that this fictional higher power is helping you. Then keep on asking God this, and never move on. This is the basis of all 12 step programs, that we must ask God to keep us from going back to drugs. Despite what anybody in those programs claims, they can not be separated from religion. “Spiritual, not religious program”, my arse!

It is true that as an addict in active addiction, stopping by oneself is very difficult. It is true that the best way to stop is to get help from others. But that doesn’t have to mean leaving your brain behind. That doesn’t have to mean lapping up all the bullshit and accepting everything they tell you in rehab at face value. Getting help from others doesn’t mean that you are helpless; it is simply a matter of using whatever resources exist in order to clean up. Then, if you really want to stay clean, nothing further is required other than abstaining from using drugs. No 90-meetings-in-90-days (or 90/90 as they call it) bullshit, no step-work, and certainly no higher power. Just because you were an idiot in active addiction does not mean that you must remain an idiot in recovery.

A girl I spoke to when doing that program, who was doing the inpatient program while I did the outpatient one, told me how her individual therapist (the same therapist I went to for individual therapy) told her that she was very clever (the girl has a high IQ) and that it is more difficult for more intelligent people to follow the program and stay clean. (I forget the details after that.) I am very fucking glad that the therapist didn’t try telling me the same thing, despite knowing what I do for a living and knowing that I do have a high IQ. I would’ve ripped her logic to pieces. That statement acknowledges that clever people might think critically and recognize bullshit where they see it, and then proceeds to try bullshitting them into submission using flattery.

By the way, high intelligence does not necessarily mean anything with regards to theism or atheism. I know many highly intelligent people who are also highly credulous, and many intelligent theists who are neither credulous nor gullible. (They are simply indoctrinated, and will likely never reject their indoctrination.) I will also never call anybody stupid because they are a theist. My own brother, who had an identical upbringing to myself, did not reject our Roman Catholic upbringing as I did. He is a theist, and is at least as smart as I am, if not smarter. Assuming that people are stupid when they don’t believe or disbelieve what we do (i.e. what seems obvious to us) is a mistake common to many of us, whether we are theists or atheists.

What is true though, is that an atheist or critical thinker who tries to follow a 12-step program, will almost certainly fail. We are not helpless. We are not powerless. If you know this, you will never be able to accept the bullshit of NA or any similar organisation. You will go to the meetings, and try to make them make sense somehow, but eventually you will just go through the motions and not take it seriously (because it is too stupid to be taken seriously) and then give the believers more fodder to feed their fallacious idea that complacency in the program was the reason for your relapse. (But relapse, you will.)

On practicing powerlessness

Just a quick one today. When I did that outpatient program a few months ago, whenever I mentioned all the things at home that were wrong and were out of my control, the therapist who ran the group session said that I wasn’t “practicing powerlessness”.

How the fuck do you practice powerlessness? Practicing is active.  Being powerless is passive. One cannot actively do something passive. It’s one of those recovery jargon answers that I learned to hate.

It follows from the 1st step: Admission that we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Except I was never powerless over my addiction. Never. After I became addicted, I chose to continue using despite the horrendous consequences, because the drugs were still giving me something that I thought I needed. I wasn’t powerless when I got in my car, drove a few blocks, called the dealer and waited an hour for him to show up and give me some substandard crystal meth. I wasn’t powerless when I built a trust relationship with that dealer, so that I could talk him into selling me thousands worth on credit. And I certainly wasn’t powerless when I decided that the drugs were no longer giving me anything that I wanted or needed, and that it was time to stop.

A week from tomorrow I will be 23 months clean, then a month after that, two years. I did not fucking get here by being powerless.

On my old blog, I wrote a series debunking the 12 steps, or maybe not debunking but writing in detail why and how I disagreed with them, starting at step one. I only got to around step 8 before giving up, because they get more nonsensical and idiotic as they progress. Each step requires belief in the foundation set by the steps before it, and that foundation is built on shaky, credulous ground.

I’ve never bothered to republish those posts here, because I’m not so passionate about them anymore. Nobody is forcing me to attend 12 step bunk anymore, and I am better off without it.

Clarifying my skeptical view of 12-step programs (About Page updated)

I’ve updated my About page. Since pages don’t show up in RSS feeds like posts do, it might be missed. Therefore I’ve copied the content here…

My name is Jerome Viveiros. I am a forty-something year old, living in Johannesburg, South Africa. In my professional life I am a senior software developer. (I also have a programming blog here.) In my personal life, I am an atheist and sceptic. I am also an ex-addict – I struggled with a methamphetamine addiction for around seven years altogether.

Just to be clear about where I am coming from, in those seven years I used day and night, every day and night. I used until I destroyed almost every relationship in my life, and lost jobs due to various reasons – including poor performance, negligence and once even gross misconduct – all of which were caused by my behaviour under the influence of crystal meth. (Actually in my last prolonged relapse of about two years, I somehow performed well enough at work, but it wouldn’t have lasted much longer.) I used until I had “voices in my head” all the time, and lost my every posession once, almost twice before I turned my life around for good.

I’m not your average addict in that I started using my “drug of choice” (recovery jargon that I dislike, by the way) in my thirties. Then during my first attempt at recovery, I found myself surrounded by people who had started using when they were far younger, people who didn’t even know basic life skills and who had never had proper careers and responsibilities. We all end up in the same place, but going into recovery naive was a bad experience for me. I didn’t have any expectations, but in my naiveté assumed that treatment involved something concrete, something based on science or medicine, or at the very least, reality – not magic.

Not only was I unable to identify with many of those in rehab with me; I found myself thrust into an environment where believing in bullshit was the only correct and accepted way to continue with my life. It didn’t work out well for me, and I believe that such programs are actually harmful to many addicts who want to recover, but do not realize that 12-step programs are not the only way.

This is my second attempt at recovery. I cleaned up on 4th September 2013, so as of the 4th May 2015 I am twenty months clean. I remain highly critical of 12-step programs such as NA and AA. I do not believe that addiction is a disease, and do not believe that it can be treated with a “spiritual” program. I believe that in any case, even if it were a disease, a spiritual program would not be the correct approach to treatment. I believe that the No True Scotsman fallacy is the strongest part of belief in such programs, and is required… The idea that addiction is both a disease and that it can be treated with a spiritual program is contradictory. It sets up a false dichotomy that results in recovering addicts believing simultaneously in contradictory ideas – this is known as cognitive dissonance. One has to use motivated reasoning and fallacious belief in order to hold on to the placebo that such programs provide, and one must assume that anybody who doesn’t believe in such a program is in denial or is “not working the steps”.

This is where the No True Scotsman fallacy comes in… Every time the program doesn’t work for any individual, others in the program redefine what it means to be “in recovery”. Thus they redefine the group in order to exclude that individual. This way, people who believe in the program can state that it never fails. When individuals fail themselves, they convince themselves that they didn’t work the steps “properly”. They assume incorrectly that those who do not return to being “in these rooms” (more 12-step jargon that I detest) do not make it. It’s an assumption that you can not make because you just don’t know that.

In meetings you become part of a culture that believes in this nonsense. Every meeting starts with reading their standard text, and as you hear it repeated over and over again, you get indoctrinated into this culture of belief in nonsense, and accept that you must continue working a spiritual program by relying on a higher power. Every meeting ends with the group holding hands while chanting the Serenity Prayer. 12-step culture is a joke, a sick and cruel joke on the addict who really wants to stop, but finds him or herself in a culture that doesn’t really help at all. And when this type of “treatment” doesn’t help, it’s more fodder for the believers in the program, who see it as confirmation that the individual didn’t work the steps. (Confirmation bias.)

This blog will include some personal information, from the point of view of this godless sceptic who is critical of 12-step programs and all the woo they contain, and of the credulous world we live in. I may also occasionally write a movie review or something about another of the many topics that interest me.

Welcome to SkepticalExaddict

Welcome to my rebooted blog. My name is Jerome Viveiros. I am a 43 year old who likes to call myself a skeptic. I’m also an atheist; a computer programmer by profession, one who was an addict using methamphetamine every day for around 7 years. For the last 5 years I ran a moderately successful blog about my recovery, but it was time for a reboot.

If you did a double-take at my blog name or my description that I used to be an addict, you’re probably not alone. Recovery culture, that is 12-step programs, teach us that we have a disease, one that can’t be cured but can be treated, for the rest of our lives. Also, our lives are supposed to revolve around recovery. I do not accept this.

Much of the rest of this first post will be adapted from part of a lengthy personal email I sent to a close family member, where I explained why I was so critical of 12-step programs on my old blog; why I believe it is necessary to criticize them – and why I will be even more critical of them on my new blog. So to one reader, much of this post will be familiar. To the rest, I hope you will enjoy it, and read with an open mind. I will refrain from annotating anything in this introductory post, because it’s only meant to be an introduction. This will also be longer than my average posts.

Why criticize 12-step programs?

For me, the very foundation of recovery culture is founded on shaky ground:

“I admitted that I was powerless over my addiction; that my life had become unmanageable.”

They go on to say that addiction is a disease, but I say that I only felt powerless; but was never really powerless.

I chose to use. Addiction is a choice, not a disease. But it isn’t just one choice – it’s a series of choices. Even under the influence, I didn’t become a zombie who was not responsible for my own actions. I chose to drive to the ATM in the middle of the night. I chose to find a dealer. I chose to buy drugs, enough to build a relationship where that dealer trusted me and gave me credit. If I didn’t have a “lolly” (the name for a glass meth pipe here in South Africa) to smoke my drugs, I chose to drive to a petrol station and buy a 12V bulb, as well as a plastic pen, then carefully cut off the end of the bulb and make a pipe to smoke my meth. Preparation to use often involves deliberate planning and may take hours. I did this over and over again; and I am ashamed to say that it was my free will to do so. There was no powerlessness – no disease. That’s nothing more than a poor excuse of someone with weak character, justifying their series of poor choices. Yes, I was chemically dependent, which gave me even more of an excuse not to make a good choice. But all of it was a choice, with multiple steps along the way where I could have stopped myself from using. Thus it became a behavioural disorder, of learned behaviours. Addiction is mostly psychological. The reasons that one starts using is psychological, as are the reasons that one continues to use. Disease never enters the equation.

19 months ago when I stopped using, I chose to stop. I had reached a point where I knew that my addiction was harmful to the people I loved, and that I had to stop. I didn’t want to stop. I stopped reluctantly, but found that within weeks, I was enjoying being clean, enjoying the difference it made to my work (because it’s really hard to write quality software when you are awake for days at a time with voices in your had), but mostly I enjoyed the quality time with the people I loved. I’m not saying it was easy – it wasn’t. But it was certainly easier than my first failed attempt to clean up when I followed a 12-step plan.

My son is in foster care, though I do take him out twice a week and have a good relationship with his foster parents. Part of the process of getting him back permanently involved taking part in a 12-step outpatient program. First my partner did such a program, and although I could not participate in one at the time due to work, I did attend two meetings with her, when I was between 4 and 6 months clean. However, I only did my program recently, only attended NA meetings regularly when I was already over a year clean, and can say with utmost confidence that the program had absolutely nothing to do with my sobriety. But this post is not about stating my case, not about enumerating all of the fallacies in such programs. I will get around to that in posts to come.

12-step culture is a bunch of bunk, where one never learns to take personal responsibility for those bad choices – never learns to make good choices instead, and is never personally accountable for either of the good or bad choices. Then one stays in treatment for life, without ever moving forward. I have been working on learning to understand why I made those poor choices, why I ended up in that mind-set where continuing to get my drugs overrode everything else, so that I will never make those poor choices again. I’m far from perfect, and wasn’t even aware of my own destructive passive aggression, wielded with self-righteousness against anyone I perceived as a threat (in my old blog which I took down). I’ve reached the point where I can’t get anything more out of therapy (from an addiction counsellor) or my self-therapy. What I need instead – assuming I still need some treatment – is treatment from a psychologist, preferably one who understands evidence-based treatment of addiction, which is regarded in the sceptical community (who are very much aware of the issues with 12-step approaches to recovery) as an effective treatment. I don’t know if such treatment exists in this country, but at the moment, a psychologist at least is a step in the right direction. (And there’s a book on the subject, published this year. I forget the name and author. I will be buying that book at month-end.)

So much therapy has zero therapeutic value

The reason that I am often so dead-set against therapy is that there is often no clear distinction between “real” therapy that has therapeutic value, such as psychology, versus therapies that are plagued with pseudoscientific nonsense, fallacies and medical quackery – such as psychoanalysis and psychiatry. Therapy that isn’t evidence-based has no more value than, for example: homeopathy, acupuncture and chiropractic. It’s like when you enter a pharmacy, and the “natural” remedies and homeopathy are packaged alongside the real medicines. People in general have no idea that treatment with no therapeutic value is often indistinguishable from treatment based on evidence, much like they don’t know that remedies with zero efficacy are packaged and placed alongside real medicine. (I haven’t even considered the supplement industry, which sells many pills that have no value – in fact it’s recently become evident that supplements are often harmful to the liver.) We live in a credulous world, where faith is placed above fact. (Not dissing religion here. You can be religious and still know the difference between belief and evidence.)

There are therapists out there whose qualifications are no more than 2 week courses, and addiction therapists whose qualifications are only that they used to smoke godawful amounts of crack cocaine. This is also why I am so critical of 12-step programs. Even when they appear to work, they have no more value than a placebo effect. According to the data and several papers published in respected medical journals, such programs are harmful to most people in treatment. (To a vast majority of between 90 and 95 %.) Of course there is a risk in criticising such programs, but I believe that the risk is as justified as that of debunking, for example, homeopathy. False hope doesn’t work for everybody. People need to know what they are getting into when entering the recovery culture, and if it doesn’t work for them, they need to know that there are alternatives that are proven and based on evidence, rather than an outdated spiritual program with no basis in medical or psychological fact. It’s especially unfortunate that 12-step programs are still largely accepted as the only approach to recovery. This is starting to change, but the legacy of these programs looks to be here for some time to come, greater than the span of my lifetime. What this means is that there are people coming into recovery all the time, people who see the issues with 12-step programs for what they are, who then leave recovery without knowing that 12-step programs are not the only way.

My target audience when criticizing 12-step programs are people like me: atheists and critical thinkers who will likely never be able to stay clean through 12-step programs. They need to know that there are effective alternatives that must be pursued, rather than giving up and continuing to use drugs. Like the writing of popular sceptics (which I will probably never be, but I will try), my writing will never change the mind of true believers anyway. I believe that the risk of leading anyone to abandon recovery is minute.


As you may have noticed, I’ve made some pretty damning statements about 12-step programs, without providing any annotations or links to back them up. My objective here was merely to set the tone. The links will come in future posts. This blog will present a sceptical take on recovery, from this godless critical thinker’s point of view. Of course I’ll also write about things that I have learned directly from using drugs; and reuse some of the material from my old blog. But the difference is, I no longer call myself a recovering addict. I am an ex addict.